Dragon Springs Road began taking shape when I ran across an account of Luo Jialing, a Eurasian orphan who sold flowers near Shanghai’s Old West Gate. She married Silas Hardoon, a Sephardic Jew from Baghdad who worked for the aristocratic Sassoon family. Hardoon went into business for himself and by the time he died in 1931, had become “the wealthiest man east of the Suez Canal.” The couple adopted eleven children, Chinese and Eurasian.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Harbin attracted entrepreneurs and adventurers. From businessmen who ended up settling in China to sailors who stayed just long enough to gamble away their wages, foreigners were a common sight in these centers of commerce. Inevitably, so were children of mixed race.
The majority of Eurasians were not wealthy or even middle-class. Many were born to prostitutes or poor women, and rarely acknowledged by their foreign fathers. Girls could expect to be sold to brothels by the time they were twelve or thirteen, boys bonded to factories. Chinese valued family and lineage above all else, so these children were scorned for having neither. Westerners who lived in China also reviled them. Author Han Suyin was born in 1912 to a Belgian mother and Chinese father. Although her father was an engineer and therefore a man of some status, her mother lost three children because European doctors refused treatment to her "half-caste" babies. "Eurasian," she wrote, “was a dirty word.”
Given such terrible odds from the moment of their birth, how did mixed-race children survive, especially the orphans? I imagined a girl, abandoned by her mother. I borrowed her name from Silas Hardoon’s mysterious wife. Jialing is female, an orphan, and of mixed race; three undesirable traits that put her at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. It seemed to me that someone like that would need nothing less than supernatural assistance to survive, and without much encouragement, a Fox spirit nosed her way into the story.
With Jialing as the protagonist of Dragon Springs Road, I could acknowledge the lives of these unwanted children. I wanted to do this without glamourizing or casting them as ‘exotic’, through a story that would give readers a sense of what it must’ve been like to live in an unforgiving society, enduring racism from all sides.
Dragon Springs Road is available now in paperback and e-book.
Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She has a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. She is also the author of Three Souls (2014.) Visit her on Facebook and at www.janiechang.com.